In 2008, the United Nations embarked on a massive renovation of its New York complex. The iconic interiors were to be completely gutted, upgraded, and then reconstructed, their character-defining elements restored and returned as closely as possible to their original state. For six years, photographer Nancy Davenport followed the construction workers, documenting the temporal and spatial disorientation that the renovation produced. She took photographs, and also interviewed the workers as well as UN employees.

In 1951, when the UN Headquarters was about to open, the architecture historian Lewis Mumford critiqued its design as one in which “the future is frozen solidly in the form of the present.” In 2008, one could imagine this ice melting, especially as the renovation occurred at a time when the UN was engaged in an intense debate over its procedures and the need to expand its membership—the need, in other words, to chart a new future for an institution that was being physically torn apart only to be returned to its original state.

Renovation—which includes Davenport’s photographs, interview transcripts, archival images, and items from the artist’s own immense collection of vintage UN paraphernalia—is a memento of this deliquescence. But it also conveys the curious life of this unstable extraterritorial space, which, though considered a relic by many, still allows, to borrow the words of historian Perry Anderson, “a glimpse of the history of possibility.”

About Nancy Davenport
Nancy Davenport is a Canadian artist based in New York and Philadelphia. Her work has been shown at venues and exhibitions worldwide, including the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge, Massachusetts; the Liverpool Biennial; the Istanbul Biennial; the International Center of Photography Triennial, New York; and the São Paulo Biennial. She is a professor in the graduate fine arts program at the University of Pennsylvania.

About Reinaldo Laddaga
Reinaldo Laddaga is an Argentine writer and critic who lives in New York. His latest books are a collection of short stories and sound pieces titled Things That a Mutant Needs to Know (Amsterdam: Unsounds, 2013) and, with Jorge Carrión, the Spanish-language volume Riplay (Buenos Aires: Adriana Hidalgo, 2014), a collective rewriting of Robert Ripley’s 1929 book Believe It or Not!

Cabinet is published by Immaterial Incorporated, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. Cabinet receives generous support from the Lambent Foundation, the Orphiflamme Foundation, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the Opaline Fund, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, the Danielson Foundation, the Katchadourian Family Foundation, The Edward C. Wilson and Hesu Coue Wilson Family Fund, and many individuals. All our events are free, the entire content of our many sold-out issues are on our site for free, and we offer our magazine and books at prices that are considerably below cost. Please consider supporting our work by making a tax-deductible donation by visiting here. Thank you for your consideration.